Its been bitching hot since I got back from Bangalore. And with the humidity through the roof like this, we all might as well be swimming in our sweat. I kid you not. Even under the fan, sitting still, Goa manages to make you sweat. I don’t know if the planet is revolting, like some people say it is. And if this is its way of being pissed off at us for messing with it so much, as some people say it is, but all I know is this is not normal. Even for Goa.
My skin is positively b-uh-zonkers right now. Zits out of control. My hair is icky and needs washing every two days. When I walk, my thighs behave like they can’t do without each other. The under-boobage area seems to be perpetually soaked. You do not want to know what I feel like after I have been walking around doing some random chores. Yes, come rain or sunshine chores must be done. Even if I feel dehydrated and faint at the end of it all. Even a 38 degree Celsius heat wave with 70% humidity cannot stop me.
Actually, all I want to do strip down to my undies, chuck a bunch of ice on to my bed, let it all melt into the mattress, turn the AC on and just lay there. Nothing else. (And never answer the doorbell, of course).
But life must go on. So I pat my face dry for the umpteenth time, in the hope that the zits rejoicing in all this squelchiness will be forced to stop their revelry and over-zealous sebaceous activity. And I think back to a time when the planet wasn’t so fucked up. When things were cooler. When all summer really meant was wearing strappy sun dresses, train journeys to Bombay, spending an endlessly stretched summer vacation in the company of grandparents, “Bombay friends”, perpetual stream of goodies like mangoes, fish, hand-churned ice cream and other things summer. And of course coming back to a rainy, cool Bangalore.
My thoughts of summer are almost synonymous with summer vacations. The only good thing about the beginning years of school, for me. Almost-three months of the simple life, three months of freedom. To wake up late, enjoy lazy, luxurious breakfasts and make mid-week trips to the library. Summer was about burying myself in lots of books, trundling over by foot to the homes of various friends, spending afternoons indoors. It was about playing quiet games, creating entire worlds in the cool shade beneath sheets draped over chairs and tables like make-shift tents of course. Of going to Chowpatty beach in the evening, to run around without a care in the world, chasing pigeons, watching kites and finally walking back home, my brow and upper lip beaded with baby sweat, but briskly waking on as fast as my little legs could take me, because Ammama always said to be home before it was too dark.
Summer officially began when with the purchase of a fresh pair of blue and white Bata Hawaii chappals. Inching my little toes forward to slip them on, and feeling the hard blue bit of rubber chafe the delicate curve between my big toe and the next. It was customary to ignore the chappal-bite, for a few days, or haphazardly fit in a swab of cotton in the concave space already blistering red thanks to many hours of contact. A necessary process of breaking-in the footwear. Because what was summer without a pair of humble flipflops?
Summer took preparation. All the rituals associated with summer began with getting cotton dresses made in time for our trip to Bombay. When Amma would take us on the annual trip to the cotton dress material stores on Commercial Street, picking out reels of Hakoba in shades of pale pink and blue, and happy floral printed fabric, I immediately knew summer was fast-approaching. We’d take the neatly cut pieces to our tailor, gleefully browse through design and pattern books, dropping tracing paper cut outs from between the pages, discerningly picking out the right smock, or the perfect piping to add a special touch on our “summer wear”. A couple of sleeveless, strappy dresses and ditch our pajama suits for flowy, cool nighties.
Summer was the time when we’d be excited to bits about drinking water from a terracotta pot. It was only brought down when the famous March heat in Bangalore began to weigh down on us. When the suns rays slanted just aggressively enough to make us wilt. The pot would be washed over and over and sun dried for a couple of days. A process necessary in ensuring that the water stored in it would miraculously stay ice cold. All through the day. Oh the glee in a natural miracle like that!
If summer days felt really long, they were made longer by afternoons spent lying on a mat on the floor, directly under the fan. The breeze was never really cool enough. Just dense, warm air swimming around the room in wispy, invisible columns that suffocated you if you moved from your spot beneath the fan. So my restless self would be forced to wind down for a few hours. Stay still even, oh God. With most of my curly mop stuck to my scalp in a layer of sweat and summer grime, with the odd disheveled fly-aways on my head fluttering in the movement, tickling my forehead every now and then.
Summer was about a hot shower in the morning, and a cold water wash to end the day. Somehow we never got back into bed without that second shower. To cool off, to wash away a day’s worth of grunge that caked up in odd places behind my ears, just under the bed of my nails, in the nape of my neck, and funnily in the depression of my bellybutton. Carefully cleaned every now and then with a cotton swab, dipped in Johnson’s Baby Oil. To pick lint from hidden crannies, and emerge from the bathroom feeling fresh as a daisy, is a squeaky clean feeling I find hard to forget.
Prickly heat. No summer was complete without it. And of course to battle it everyone used Nycil. And later, when things got fancier, and people began to care about making talcum powder smell nice, Shower to Shower. We’d douse our bodies in it, losing ourselves in clouds of lime-scented talcum powder, with just the right grain that somehow made the itching stop. Amma would slather copious amounts of it on to our backs, where we couldn’t reach on our own. We’d slip on our night clothes, squeak-squeak our feet back into our chappals and prop ourselves up like pretty flowers at the dining table, while ammama dished up hot rotis, cold aamras came out of the fridge and every meal ended in a tall glass of freshly churned salty buttermilk.
Summer days were also spent procrastinating over homework. Nothing laborious, mostly just scrawling numbers in a square lined notebook, taking extra care to keep the numbers within the squares. And yet, even back then, the rebel in me refused to spare a moment of official holiday time doing meaningless things. Like work. Until the very end, when I’d let it all pile up so bad I would cower under the pressure if finishing all 3.5 pages of it at once. Oh the woe!
Some morning we’d wake up early, and a friendly uncle would pile all of us kids into his Premier Padmini, and whisk us off to the beach. Before the sun shoe too bright, and the heat began to smack down on us. We’d spend a few hours feeding pigeons, running around in circles, amazed at how they’re such creatures of habit, repeating the same cycles of feeding, flying away, returning to feed, over and over and over. The same uncle would take us to the turf club some evenings, so we could run around and bust some energy in the park. Its amazing how many hours we spent just running about, no toys, not always with bats and balls, no company, no organized play, just. running. around. Some evenings we’d all be piled into the car of some kind adult who spares his Gymkhana membership to have us all in a pool. A few hours in the water, while the adults sipped coffee or fresh lime sodas in the clubhouse nearby. Sometimes we’d join them, where a treat of cold chicken sandwiches would await us. And we’d feel so chuffed at getting to have a “club meal”!
Summer was about mangoes, the occasional chaat party for dinner, fresh ice cream after meals and all things indulgent, in the miniscule spectrum that was life back them. It was a time of natural slowing down, when time away from school meant more hours cuddled in amma and anna’s arms. When visiting grandparents meant bed time stories, forced afternoon naps between the two of them, and getting pampered a tiny bit. It meant guzzling books, playing pretend-games endlessly, and not having to stop or go to sleep early because we had school the next day.
Somehow, the heat, the sweat, the humidity, the stickiness and the unpleasantness didn’t matter. I guess we just didn’t have the time to worry about it. So I pat my face dry for the umpteenth time, retire to my bedroom, open the word doc I am working on, turn on the AC and settle in for another day indoors. This is how we get through summer, adult-style.
It’s already May. I take a sip of my nimboo pani and tell myself, it is not much longer now. This time, next month, we will have rain.
And I breathe.